I spent last week in Brisbane, attending two conferences – QUT’s Online Learning and Teaching conference on Mobile technologies in teaching, and the Association of Internet Researchers international conference, Internet Convergences.
My brain is still trying to recover 😉
The AoIR one in particular gave me vast quantities of food for thought, and I’m still processing all the various ideas, discussions, implications. With 6 sessions going at a time, each with multiple papers, for three days, there was A LOT discussed.
One thing that’s standing out for me, though, is how far behind university education is in general in grappling with the changes that the networked, information-rich world has already brought to the ways in which people interact with information and build their knowledge and learning.
I’m not just referring here to the use of web technology and social software in teaching. I’m referring to the impact of this networked world on the fundamental ways in which we practice and understand our disciplines, the ways in which we undertake, publish and disseminate our research, the ways in which we teach our students about our disciplines, and the ways in which our disciplines and foci of study are themselves changing.
Last week’s conference reinforced my long-held opinion that, rather than leave epistemology and methodology to fourth year or post-graduate levels as we have traditionally done in most discipline areas, we need now to shift that right up front, explicitly focusing our first year units around these issues. Our students have access to so much information at the click of a button that, rather than feed them more ‘content’, our prime goal should be educate them in the epistemological bases of our disciplines – how we build knowledge, how we explore theories, how evidence is sought and assessed, and so on.
These are the skills that our students need for the even-more networked future. They need to be able to work effectively and professionally in this world in which more information that you could ever have dreamed about a few years ago is available instantly. They need not just information literacy and network literacy but explicit epistemological literacy in order to find their way through and make meaning of millions of terabytes of data, to build relevant knowledge, to negotiate significant choices and actions based on that knowledge with their equally-networked colleagues, peers, clients, constituents, bosses etc.
These literacies are not simple skills. To be brutally honest, they are certainly not skills that are developed by reading a range of 10 or 20 or 30 academic journal articles and writing a 2,000 word essay that only a lecturer or tutor ever sees. Or by setting up a standard experiment and writing a report. Or by cramming for two days for a multiple-choice exam.
We can no longer get by with an approach that might have educated people for the 1980s, but certainly does not educate them for 2010 and beyond. I believe that approach is doing a massive disservice to our students.
At all levels of higher education – policy and government frameworks and funding; institutional policy, structures and cultures; and individual academic level – we need to grapple with the challenge to make our educational processes relevant, to truly educate students in how their respective disciplines and professions will be enacted and experienced in the years to come.
And yes, it’s a darn big challenge.